A Big, German Christmas Eve

A guest post by Amy Robinson

christmas eve candleChristmas Eve meant a magical evening spent at Grandma and Grandpa Berg’s house.

Getting ready created a buzz of activity. The two boys were clean-shaven, while Dad splashed on his Old Spice and put on his best sweater. In the bathroom, we only had one, was crowded with Mom and three, teen to pre-teen girls, sharing a turn at ironing our hair into heated curls; all of us zipping each other into festive dresses and squeezing into pantyhose that could instantly tan a leg. When all 5 children were ready, seven souls were stuffed into the station wagon and hit the road to Grandmother’s house.

Grandma’s Christmas buffet was abundant and love was expressed with sugar. Homemade, nutmeg-flecked Christmas cookies, almond cakes, glossy peanut brittle, sticky fudge, rich peanut-butter balls, white clouds of divinity, chocolate covered peanuts graced every flat surface. It was a potluck that would make the tooth fairy cringe and the local dentist wealthy.

After the sweets, presents were the main attraction. Everyone got a present at Grandma and Grandpa’s house thanks to a family-wide name swap. But before the gifts were distributed, out of that colorful pile under the tree, the enormous family sang carols.

With a flair for German Drama, the lights were dimmed, candles were lit and the house packed full of aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings would chime. What was lacking in talent was made up for in exuberance. Winter’s frostiness melted in the warmth of kin and the waxy scent of flickering candles. The caroling would always end with Silent Night. The room would hush as Grandpa would sing the tune by himself, in German, “Stille Nacht”.

And then there were presents! It was the duty of the children to deliver gifts and we would run around the room, feeling like elves granting Christmas wishes. After the chaos of torn wrapping paper and squeals over new toys, the house settled around chatting grown ups and energized kids playing.

To mark the end of the night, Grandpa would pass around a shot of Peppermint Schnapps. Each man would take a sip, bound in a tradition of camaraderie. At the age of 12, I bravely tried to sneak a little bit as the glass came into my hand. There was the sweet hint of mint, the disgusting sting of alcohol and the laughter of my family as I grimaced from the flavor combination.

Too soon, it was time to go home. Dad would lift me, his baby girl, in one arm, my head resting on his shoulder. We walked to the car, the Old Spice cologne mixing with the nylon scent of his coat. Here I felt safe and drowsy. The sky above glowed with stars shining from one edge of the prairie to the other. On the drive home, we sang more carols to keep Dad awake while he drove and because we were absolutely infused with Christmas joy.

At dawn the next morning, the living room would transform into destroyed wrapping paper and boxes. Mom put the record player on so The Chipmunks could sing us through our Christmas morning joy. What followed was hot cocoa, cookies for breakfast and a house that smelled of baking turkey and was brimming over with the noise of kids, family and love.

Now that those childhood days are over, I see how lucky I was to have that magic. Not everyone has that story. Christmas was a time of absolute happiness and safety. This is the gift my parents gave me that I can keep for the rest of my life.

[box border=”full”]Amy RobinsonAmy is currently the column editor and writes a bi-weekly blog for FierceAndNerdy.com. You can find all of her other work on her website Looking at the Moon. When she’s not writing, Amy  her husband, watches too much TV and volunteers with homeless cats and dogs.
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Photo credit: Krisph

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